Picture this. You’ve been trying really hard to set some rules at mealtimes with your toddler. For instance, you have decided that it is totally reasonable for them to take one tiny bite of something off of their plate before being allowed to get up. This is absolutely reasonable, and it’s effective to boot. You know that you’re not asking them to do anything outside the realm of reason, and you know that they will do it. It may take 5, 10, 15 minutes, but they will eat one small piece of food, knowing that mommy (or daddy, or grandma) means business. The problem is that you are trying to maintain your mealtime rules at Grandma’s house (or aunt, friend, or other relative), who disagrees with your tactics. It is often very difficult for well meaning adults to watch a toddler in distress, and it is easier and more pleasing to give into the toddler rather than witness a tantrum, or even minor fussing. This is especially true for grandma and grandpa, or other members of an older generation who just want to shower your little one with love and affection and never see or hear evidence of discontent. The problem is, if you’re not consistent with your rules, each time you try to enforce them, your little one will try a little harder to resist.
In my case, Me-Me and Pop-pop don’t really care too much about the rules of mealtime I’d like to enforce, they just want their little Claire Bear to be pleasant and happy at the dinner table. It’s upsetting to them to watch her crocodile tears and distressed facial expressions. For this reason, I have to choose either 1. Not to place any demands on Claire at their house or 2. Obtain their cooperation prior to initiating any demands. If they aren’t on board, their attempts at soothing my little drama queen will undermine the lessons I am trying to teach her.
Consider the importance of having the cooperation of all the adults in your child’s life when trying to initiate a new set of rules. If she or he receives different messages from different people, your job will be more challenging. While there is no guarantee that your friends and relatives will be on board with your parenting decisions, you need to assess the situation and adjust your behavior accordingly. After all, we really are only in control of our own actions ...
- Inform other adults who interact with your child what rules you are trying to teach them. Ex – they must sit in the highchair for meals; they must try one bite of food before getting up from the table; they get their drink at the end of each meal.
- Assess whether or not other adults will comply with your rules. If not, you’ll need to adjust your demands and expectations of your child OR not participate in mealtimes with these adults. Explain this to grandparents, and they’re likely to want to have your little ones company, and might attempt to follow your rules!
- Model how to react to your child. Show your parents/friends/other relatives the appropriate way to deal with your child’s behavior. Ignore behavior you do not want and give a lot of praise and attention for behavior you do want (this works for adults too, by the way.. although adults behavior change can take much, much, longer!!).
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